Snow Days

skis and cabinSix winters ago on the side of a snowy mountain I broke my youngest son’s leg.  It is one of those memories that still plays in my head like a stop gap horror film.  I carried my boys everywhere when they were small.  They were snuggled in a sling as I did laundry and strapped to my back at the grocery store.  We walked with the dogs and hiked in the Bighorns – I was used to a few extra pounds on my shoulders and a small voice in my ear.  So it wasn’t much of a leap for me to spend a ski season with a helmeted toddler in my backpack.  Luca loved being on the ski hill.  He was thrilled by the quick woosh of the chairlift and was never satisfied with my cautious speed on our way down.  He babbled in my ear and entertained other skiers with his near constant laugh.  When I tipped over from a standstill and twisted his little two-year old limb under my own leg, he cried immediately, but he followed my panicked instructions to be quiet so I could ski us down to the lodge.  After an excruciating two hour drive to the ER and a long surgery to set his femur, we spent four days in the hospital.  One of his first questions from the confines of his giant Spica cast was, “When can I ski with you again?”

After Luca’s wreck, my husband had knee surgery and I decided that our alpine skiing days were over.  We had other – read safer – ways to play in the snow.  I started spending more time on my cross-country skis and the kids got their own nordic equipment.  We snow shoed to the family cabin and used the downhill ski helmets like high-end sledding equipment.  Screaming down an icy mountain on wooden sticks just seemed like too much.  It felt too wild.

jenny ski

I run up against this parenting paradox often: I value wildness.  I seek it out in the mountains, in literature, in art, in my backyard.  I was raised to see arid plains and vast grazing land as potential – that middle of nowhere feeling of the wild prairie was my home.  But like every mamma, my instinct tells me to keep my babies safe – close.  I’m always aware of the power and danger that lurks just beyond every trailhead, that hides in every dark cave and alley.  I feel those moments of illogical terror when I am away from boys.  Yet the basic knowledge and pure joy that comes from time spent in wild places – doing wild things – pulls at least as hard as my protective instincts.

So we went back to the ski hill last year.  Luca – on his own skis this time – spent half a day in lessons with his brother, and by noon we were all skiing together.  The boys are still beginners.  They snow plow like they have calves of steel and they have little interest in making pretty turns or full stops, but they love being on the mountain.  They ski just like they approach the world: Luca is full-out, bombing down the hill like a fearless Broadway performer.  I literarily chase him down to the lifts.  Frank is cautious and thoughtful, more like an economist weighing cost benefit equations.  Sure it’s dangerous, but kids are wild in the best sense of the word.  They are untouched, full of potential and ambition.  It seems right to find places to feel that wildness, to watch as they learn to respect the power and enormity of the world.  They already understand that they cannot avoid all danger, but that life is pretty great in those spaces of calculated risk.  Besides, we have so much fun out there in the snow.


kids ski

13 thoughts on “Snow Days

  1. I love this sarah! I too struggle with the fear associated with sending my children barreling down a mountain. More so my fear of the other out of control skiers and what damage could be done if they happened to not see my little one. So I do what any completely sane mother would do I follow uber closely behind him with every turn always watching who is coming from above like a paranoid shoplifter. I am learning slowly (very slowly) to let him be.

  2. I always considered downhill skiing suicidal, and then I had children who loved it. My middle child began racing when he was 10 and raced competitively for 10 years. I always had to remind myself that the most dangerous part of the experience was driving to the ski slope. His younger brother, at age 6, became known on the hill as the “green hornet” because his green snow suit. He had to be helped on and off the lift but was fearless on the slope. What’s a mother to do?

  3. I had the same recent experience. As a kid I had a step uncle that was instructor in Vail. When my dad lived in Boulder, I skiied all the time but I was so little I don’t remember, just that I wanted my own child to be able to enjoy it like I do now. His first try when he was three ended up with all of us in tears and me frustrated at everything. It didn’t help I locked the keys in the car at the end of the day. I cried out of pure trap. Know that kind of cry? where the frustration, sadness, is like a distilled white coal?
    I waited a while, then he did great in a lesson at Meadowlark when he was 5.

    Then this New Year’s we went to Big Sky. Honestly, I had my doubts about going, wasn’t sure about the group, was worried about the cost, etc. He had a great half lesson day then decided to do a run with us. First off, I didn’t know how to teach a child, secondly, New Year’s has always been ominous for me, I hate it, I mull over each failing from the past year, each let down, each loss, like reading tea leaves. My weird superstition is if the New Year’s Eve isn’t perfect, the rest of the year will be a loss. It didn’t help growing up that every New Year’s was formal and glamourous and there were events I will never at this stage in my life be able to recreate. That said, I should have known as by 9 am that morning my husband and I were already clenching our teeth at each other.

    It was the end of the day, he had passed lessons and they said “was ready for the lift” he’d done a lift at Meadowlark with their instructor, how hard could it be? But tt was an unknown lift I hadn’t done. As Rex went to get off with me, I was suprised by the drop, I got off and suddenly realized he hadn’t. The lift kept going as I turned, suprised and his knees were above my head, I pulled him down on instinct and we both fell gnarled winter branches, his legs twisted and my weight on him. HIs legs at angles they shouldn’t be. I cried, he cried, my husband looked at a loss but swooped in as savior, which I fight with him often not to do – let me be the mom. I work so much, I feel like a man half the time as it is, let me just be a woman mom as well. Rex got up, and skiied down. But I couldn’t stop crying. Dinner plans fell apart, I crawled into bed at 5 pm and pulled the covers over my head. Rex said he never wanted to ski again. Rex and Vince went to see the fireworks. I cried through it. At 10 pm a little voice came to the bed and whispered, “Mommy, there were fireworks and they had a firework heart and I thought of you.”

    The next day I called my other best friend, a ski instructor for kids in Jackson. “Come now,” she said, “we’ll get your confidence back, and his.” Which was a bit of irony since the last time I visited her when she previously lived in Jackson, Vince and I had only been dating six months. En route back we hit a sem–truck. Head on. It was then I made a deal, “Ok look, I’ll settle down now whoever you are up there, I want a family.” So the trip, and it was just going to be Rex and I, made me a little nervous anyway. But I could just be Mom by myself and I needed to see a friend that had known my in other lives, like my friend Fran. So we did, and off he went in the hands of my best friend and all her ski instructor buddies. After a few hours she took the day off and skiied with me, as did her boyfriend. She taught ME how to teach a child using her 190 lb boyfriend as an example. “If you can get him off a lift, you an assist anyone.”

    Later Rex gleefully showed me how “cool people” take their skis off, how to help him from the lift and to learn.. to let go. Shannon and Jason made me ski far back, farther than I was comfortable. “What if he falls? What if he runs into a tree? He is all I have in this world,” my mind ran and that lump of loss/anxiety tasted like copper in my throat. Eventually he did fall, pretty hard. I sat down next to him, and took a deep breath. “You know Rex, sometimes when you fall, it’s because we need to slow down and sometimes it’s a great way to just sit and rest, and enjoy the view.” We sat back and looked out at the gorgeous Tetons. He stopped crying. After a while he said, “Ok it’s time to go, let’s ski!” and we did and the oddest thing, in me, it felt like wings unfolding, stretching, reaching. It had been a long time since I felt that way.

    I make myself ski a little farther back, but it’s hard not to look at those trees, or glare at the snowboarders, or keep from yelling “slow down, slow down!” It’s hard not to get anxious, that anxiety – because good things don’t happen for me. So I’m prone to wait for the worst, but instead I’ll try to let go, let go. My friend Shan advises, “frozen jellybeans in the pocket for the kids, one glass of mulled wine for the parent.”

    Thanks for the story Sara, I thought I was the only one for a long time. That after his fall the cabal of parent judgers were going to take me away.

  4. Loved this SJ! AmberHawkins-Warren Senior Marketing Strategist 801.558.6824

    From: Write Some WhatNot Reply-To: Write Some WhatNot Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2014 15:26:18 +0000 To: A HW Subject: [New post] Snow Days writesomewhatnot posted: “Six winters ago on the side of a snowy mountain I broke my youngest sons leg. It is one of those memories that still plays in my head like a stop gap horror film. I carried my boys everywhere when they were small. They were snuggled in a sling as I di”

  5. I apologize in advance for what will likely be a comment lacking in snarkiness, because I loved reading this. The initial conflict you address between the overprotective maternal instinct and a love of wilderness was resolved beautifully by seeing the same beauty in children and wilderness. It’s nice to see the fear that inevitably comes with parenting not make you afraid to love the world as much as you always did, but rather enhance that love. Well played.
    You should let me teach your kid to play drums.

  6. One of your best yet. Hard to believe we met way back when Luca was in that cast! It’s like we have our kids on bungee cords, and we experiment with letting them bounce further and further from us. But you know what, those things rarely break, and I think we will always feel urges to tug them home.

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